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30 Dec, 2008 06:57

Construction endangers unique forest

Environmentalists say unique Russian woodlands are under threat with plans to build a resort. The Utrish forest near the Black Sea coast includes the country's only forest to contain juniper and pistachio trees.

Activists have gathered in the Southern Russian city of Krasnodar to protest against what they say is the destruction of a rare wildlife habitat. Environmentalists claim the Utrish forest is now in danger.

Although the Utrish forest is near the popular Black Sea resort of Anapa, there are no large villages or roads in the area.

The woodland’s most distant parts can only be reached by foot, or by boat from the sea. Although a protected area, the juniper and pistachio forest is not an official wildlife reserve, but it does attract many tourists who come for the solitude.

For decades the Utrish area remained isolated from the outside world. Now environmental activists fear it will become the site for new houses and recreational facilities.

A new road under construction in Utrish is at the root of their worries. Greenpeace activists are concerned it could herald widespread development, but others say the road is vital. Last year alone fire crews put out seven forest fires in the area.

The authorities in Anapa were surprised at the environmentalists’ opposition. The mayor's office claims that everything has been done to protect nature during the construction.

“Reportedly there were three possible ways to build this road. They chose the one that will minimize the chopping of forests if that is the case,” said Tatyana Pshenisnova from Anapa Mayor's Office.

Last week, however, the regional prosecutor’s office charged the road construction company with violations. The court case is likely to be keenly watched by those on all sides who say they have the best interests of the forest at heart.